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E-content access and management services evolve

Some 10 years have passed since e-journals began their radical transformation of scholarly publishing. In that time, both the content and its users have become more sophisticated, requiring e-content access and management services to evolve continuously to meet the needs of publishers, libraries and end users. This article examines e-content trends that are driving the next generation of access and management tools.

Content growth fuels change

The volume of e-content available to end-users continues to grow exponentially via (1) publishing of new content in existing publications; (2) launch of new publications, including additional publication types such as e-books and reference works; and (3) digitisation of backfile issues and other archival material. Users now have literally tens of millions of articles available to them in digital form.

This growth requires a whole new class of more advanced tools to allow end users to successfully locate and access content of interest. Users increasingly want an integrated, comprehensive content space that includes all issues of e-journals back to Volume 1, plus additional resources such as e-books, reference works, interactive media and other information applicable to their research. Thus, renewed emphasis on the user experience, especially in the area of content discovery, is needed to help users navigate these new integrated e-content environments.

Libraries face new challenges in managing the often confusing processes of acquisition, licensing, access, and usage analysis for very large, dynamic collections. Increasingly common consortial licensing arrangements can add an extra layer of complexity - not only to purchasing but also to access and usage reporting, as can the goal of expanding access beyond campus confines to remote students and researchers.

Publishers need access to more sophisticated services for enabling the publication of richer, higher-fidelity content, for differentiating their offerings from those of competitors, and for managing both their marketing and service relationships with existing subscribers and prospects.

Beyond traditional e-journals

E-content is advancing beyond the traditional e-journal in terms of content sophistication and structure, delivery methods and access channels. The digital medium provides the opportunity for authors and publishers to move past the linear, text-focused, PDF-format e-journal article to offer additional information-rich media types with more advanced user-interaction capabilities.

Mathematical and chemical symbols and formulae, high-resolution interactive images, scalable vector graphics (SVG), streaming audio and video, and directly-usable downloadable data sets require e-content access services not only to be able to store and index this enhanced content but also to offer more sophisticated tools that allow the user to successfully discover and consume this information.

Adaptive rendering of content formats is needed to allow all users to consume any type of content in varied environments, whether using high-capability computer configurations or low-end mobile devices for access. Multiple subject classification systems that are simultaneously active, and custom publisher- or user-specified content groupings, will also help users find and access this content.

Smarter search

With ever-increasing volumes of e-journal content available, along with new publication types and richer content, search capabilities must evolve to help users not only find content quickly, but also better evaluate its relevance. Scalability is important for keeping search times fast as content volume balloons. Clustering search results by publication type, media type, subject and access rights will help users locate applicable information within large volumes of diverse content.

While search is an increasingly important function, efficient tools for browsing the content space are also valuable, for they help users understand the structure of different publication types and facilitate content discovery. Enhanced linking functionality, such as forward linking to newer articles that reference a given article, allows publishers to provide enhanced content integration while improving the user's research efficiency. And while more advanced software tools for searching and browsing content are an absolute necessity, the human interactions that are enabled by communities of practice and social networking features show great promise for enhancing content discovery and relevance evaluation in many user populations.

New access channels

With the standardisation of metadata registration, transfer and linking mechanisms, such as OpenURL and the Digital Object Identifier, users are now more likely to locate metadata in systems external to the content's primary host site. This phenomenon requires not only robust support for linking standards, but also higher levels of site-specific integration, such as the ability to make comprehensive metadata feeds available to Google Scholar.

Browser integration of rich client interfaces via Internet Explorer plug-ins and Firefox extensions can provide the user with a more efficient interface for finding and interacting with content, and help integrate scholarly content into the user's day-to-day information environment. After performing extensive industry surveys and formal research to understand trends such as the above, MetaPress will be incorporating many of these features into our new integrated e-content platform due for release in the second half of 2005.

Gary Coker is head of R&D at MetaPress ( He is responsible for guiding the research and development of emerging technologies, user experience, and best practices for e-content Web sites and services for the world's largest primary host of e-content.

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